Musthafa Ebadi
One of Basic Lessons of Management - Trust But Verify
by Musthafa Ebadi on August 25th, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One of the top news stories over the last few weeks in the world of media business has been the Phone Hacking Scandal at the News of the World Corporation. I decided to post this article and give you my reasons why I think Rupert Murdoch is ultimately responsible for the criminal activities in his firm.

But before I do that let me take you through an interesting experience that thought me something valuable in life.

Back in early 2000s when I transitioned from frontline manager to a senior management role I was blessed to have three good mentors who took me under their wings and transformed me to a leader I am today. One of them – Mike McAra – my director at the time thought a very valuable lesson that perhaps Mr. Rupert Mordoch had missed.

To give you a bit of background on the situation, part of my responsibility as the contact center operations manager was to ensure that different queues were staffed with different resources depending on the time of the day. It was an easy but complex process and over time we had mastered it and knew the queues, resources to be on each queue, and switchover like the back of our hands.

Throughout my career I have also been known to be someone who has career developed a lot of people reporting to me. In this position also I had someone whom I had taken under my wings and was grooming him to be the next contact center operations manager. He was very excited about the new opportunity and challenges that it will bring and as part of his growth after training him and shadowing him few times I decided to delegate this queuing process to him.

On the first day that he was doing it on his own he did it flawlessly. He continued to do this for the next day or two and I was confident to a point where I stopped worrying about it. The next day I ran into Mike on the floor, and oddly enough he asked me if all my queues were appropriately staffed, to which I replied yes since my protégé was taking care of it.

Mike asked me a very profound, “How do you know you have the right resources for this time of the day?” I honestly didn’t know so he made me go check, and to my unpleasant surprise because my manager had a rough day, he had totally forgotten about it. While we managed to get all the right resources on the queue at the right time and minimize the impact to our customers within few quick minutes, that day Mike thought me a very valuable lesson later in his office. He said that it’s good that I trust my people when I delegate but I should always verify to make sure they are doing it and doing it right.

As I have studied the timelines of the News of the World Phone Hacking Scandal I can honestly think that Mr. Rupert Murdoch could have greatly benefited by this tip from Mike McAra.

If you look at the timelines of this Phone Hacking Scandal you will notice that back in early 2000s there were allegations that News of the World was involved in inappropriate practices. Later in 2003 Rebekah Brooks, ex-editor of News of the World and at the time editor of its sister paper, The Sun, and Andy Coulson the then editor of News of the World appeared before a British parliamentary committee, where Ms Brooks admitted to paying police for information leading into phone hacking.

Then in August 2006, Clive Goodman, royal editor at the News of the World, and his associates Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, and Davy Craig, editor of the Weekly News, were arrested over allegations of phone hacking made by the British Royal Family in 2005.

In January 2007 Clive Goodman was jailed for four months and Glenn Mulcaire is given a six-month prison term. Goodman and Mulcaire admitted conspiring to intercept communications while Mulcaire also pleaded guilty to five other charges of intercepting voicemail messages. After the two were sentenced, News of the World editor Coulson resigned, saying he took "ultimate responsibility” for this scandal.

In 2009 and 2010, further revelations emerged regarding the extent of the phone hacking and the number of News of the World employees who may have been aware of the practices. By March 2010, the paper had spent over £2 million settling court cases with victims of phone hacking.

In July 2009, The Guardian made a series of allegations of wider phone hacking activities at the News of the World newspaper, that were aimed at other individuals, including television presenter Chris Tarrant.

What remains unclear is that while all these revelations were made how come Mr. Rupert Murdoch wasn’t aware of what was going on in his company? He claims that after Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were jailed, and Andy Coulson resigned he thought that these practices at his company were stopped.

On July 19th 2011 while testifying before The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee of British Parliament Mr. Rupert Murdoch said he cannot be held responsible for the scandal at the News of the World, because he was let down by "people I trusted". He continued to say "I was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about this case two weeks ago.” When asked who was responsible, he said: "The people I trusted to run it and maybe the people they trusted."

While there is a big debate and discussion going on whether Mr. Murdoch really knew about the extent of criminal practices in his company or not I would take him on his word and say he really didn’t know the extent of these practices. This however doesn’t excuse him to be responsible and accountable for the irregularities. While he did trust the people under him – who according to him let him down – he missed to verify, and in my books as the captain of the ship he is ultimately responsible for what goes on the ship.

Do you agree with me or think he is ultimately not responsible for this disaster?

Thanks for Reading!

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